Poor diets, sedentary jobs and a diminishing work-life balance have brought about a global epidemic of stress, heart disease and diabetes, to name a few. The result is that a significant proportion of the world is suffering from chronic diseases that are, in part, a result of living in the modern world. The latest scientific evidence from The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, chronic diseases will be responsible for a staggering 57% of all reported global deaths.
The cost of these lifestyle related diseases is high. Treating patients puts enormous financial and logistical pressure on healthcare systems, and the diminished quality of life experienced by individuals and families is almost impossible to quantify. Addressing the growing epidemic of chronic diseases has been at the heart of the agenda for numerous health care reforms throughout the world, and there are encouraging signs that yoga is playing an increasingly important role in tackling this issue.
The UK in particular has seen some notable innovation in healthcare. Faced with budget cuts, an ageing population, staff shortages and stress; the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is faced with a unique set of challenges. But there are positive signs that those involved are open to the integration of yoga. Considered by many as an evolutionary approach in preserving its rich history and the quality of care it strives to provide.
The challenges faced by the NHS
Founded in 1948, the initial principles of the NHS were that everyone, regardless of age, gender or social standing, would have access to quality healthcare. At the time, the main agenda was to treat people with acute conditions. However, changing lifestyle behaviors combined with an ageing population has shifted the focus, now people are increasingly being treated for long-term medical conditions.
Disorders such as heart disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease require a different approach, often with specialist care that is both more resource-intensive, and expensive.
Considering a staggering 70% of total expenditure on health and care in England is dedicated towards treating people with long-term chronic conditions, the challenges are obvious. However the NHS has continually adapted in order to meet the demands of a changing world, and has increasingly included yoga in a variety of guidelines, literature and support programs.
Patient centered care
In today’s environment, most people don’t need emergency services for the majority of their healthcare needs, and the concept of patient centered care has come the fore. Patients increasingly want a say in the planning of their care, often having their own views on what’s best for them.
The inclusion of yoga into a patient centered approach is in keeping with these very principles. For a number of conditions yoga provides a tangible and effective solution, with treatment routinely tailored to suit the specific needs of an individual. The possibility of wider integration of yoga into the NHS will provide the ability for patients to take control of their own health and wellbeing. With an estimated 1% of the UK population already practicing yoga, the foundations for patient centered care have already been built.
Until recently the traditional approach towards healthcare has focused on the biological structure of the body, with illnesses typically treated by modern medical practices. Recent research however in psychology and the social sciences has offered an alternative approach, and the principles of biopsychosocial care contend that behaviours, thoughts and feelings, have an influence on a person’s physical health.
With many of the chronic illnesses that are attributed to lifestyle behavior often consisting of a psychological component, yoga’s much cited impact on mental health conditions offers a solution that addresses both mind and body.
On Jan 11th, 2016, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced almost a billion pounds of investment to improve mental health services across the country. Commenting on the announcement, Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of the NHS stated:
“For both the public and the NHS, improving mental health has rightly now shot up our national ‘to do’ list. Putting mental and physical health on an equal footing is a far reaching idea whose time has now come. A sea change in public attitudes coupled with an increasing range of effective mental health treatments mean that now’s the time to tackle the huge unmet need that affects families and communities across the nation.”
Image credit: Yoga Journal
The NHS already reference the benefits of yoga on treating high blood pressure, heart disease, lower back pain, depression and stress. And with depression effecting 1 out of every 4 people in the UK, there are exciting opportunities ahead for yoga teachers to work in harmony with the NHS, helping patients to alleviate certain psychological pathologies that are having a detrimental impact on their health and happiness.
In a guide funded by The Department of Health and in partnership with the Mental Health Network, they outline the importance of investing in emotional and psychological wellbeing for patients with long-term conditions.
With yoga working on various physiological parameters, there are also benefits when dealing with simultaneous health problems. Rather than introducing a variety of different medications for numerous complaints or conditions, patients may start yoga for diabetes, but find that their mood, sleep patterns and back pain benefit as a result of regular practice.
But it’s not only patients who would benefit from the wider inclusion of yoga into healthcare provision, but also the dedicated staff of the NHS.
The staff of the NHS
Image credit: Northern MSW
Overworked and under staffed, work induced stress has now been highlighted by the NHS as a major concern. The Royal College of Nursing states that England is currently short of at least 20,000 nursing staff, and it’s having a serious impact on staff wellbeing and patient care.
A number of studies have documented that NHS staff have over recent years experienced increasing levels of stress. Absenteeism costs the NHS £2.4bn per year, with mental health and musculoskeletal problems the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS.
In order to help support the staff of the NHS, in September 2015 Simon Stevens allocated £450 million in funding to implement a variety of programs and wellbeing initiatives. He said that health professionals needed better support to look after their own health, given the increasing demands being put on them.
There are now over 50% more programs supporting staff when compared to 2010. The inclusion of yoga into the NHS and these initiatives was seen by many a landmark moment, reflecting the growing support and appreciation within the UK of the various health benefits of yoga.
Absenteeism is expected to decrease, while the virtues that are often the first to disappear in times of stress - patience, compassion and empathy – while more difficult to quantify, are equally important when caring for patients. As a result the initiative will not only support the staff of the NHS, but is expected to make a tangible difference on patient care.
Ultimately, yoga is increasingly being viewed as both a cost effective and accessible form of healthcare provision, suitable for people of all ages, genders and race, regardless of skill level and from all walks of life – similar to the very founding principles of the NHS.
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Learn more about healthcare and yoga at The Minded Institute.